A Glimpse of the Edge of China
( Originally Published 1903 )
AFTER a few days " upcountry " Howard and I returned to Manila, and I began to make preparations to start on my homeward journey. I had expected that Timmie would leave the transport and return home with me, but he and Mr. Casey called to see me one day and explained that the plan had been upset by Captain Linder. He had insisted that Timmie would have to stay on for three weeks longer, and finish out his month. " It do beat all," remarked Mr. Casey, with feeling, " how that man contrives to make so many people unhappy. He's got the old Nick in him, sure enough. Timmie and I laughed. This was strong language from Mr. Casey, and we marveled that he should so express himself. We weren't worrying about Captain Linder now. I was out of his way for good and all, and Timmie knew he hadn't much longer to serve. Our chief concern now was to find some means by which we two could get together again.
It was my plan to go from Manila to Hong Kong, and see something of that city and of Canton. That would give me an idea of what China is like. Then I thought I would go over to Japan, and visit some of the more interesting places in the Chrysanthemum Kingdom before returning to San Francisco. I had already arranged, through Colonel Eddy, to return from Nagasaki to America on board another transport, where I could act as assistant clerk to the Quartermaster, in payment for my board and passage. I had saved most of my wages as master-at-arms, and had earned a little more while I was in Manila, so that I felt sufficiently rich to travel a little on my own account before returning home. I suggested to Timmie that he might try to get a position of some sort on board this same trans-port on which I was to travel, for in that way we could cross the Pacific together, anyhow. He thought this was an excellent idea, and before I left Manila he had been successful in his effort. He would join the ship at Manila, and I would join her at Nagasaki, and everything would be all right.
I was rather sorry to say good-bye to my good friends when I left for Hong-Kong, and Mr. and Mrs. Eddy and the boys tried hard to persuade me to stay longer; but I was firm in my determination to see China and japan, though I greatly appreciated their kindness. Mr. Casey and Timmie and a few others from the McClellan were at the wharf to say good-bye, and we arranged that we were all to meet in New York at Christmas time. It was a sad parting, nevertheless, for much might seem to change our plans.
The ship on which I was to travel to Hong-Kong was not very large, and the passengers were mostly Chinese. While sailing up the China Sea I had ample time to study their singular traits of character. They paid about twelve dollars each for their passage, boarding themselves. They had a vast amount of baggage,—more trunks than a devotee of fashion on her way to Newport, for most of them had made money in Manila, and were returning to their native land to enjoy it for the remainder of their days. Each family carried a small portable furnace, a bag of charcoal, baskets of potatoes, with rice, salt-fish, shrimps, crabs, and hampers of live chickens and ducks. They waste nothing. Standing on the bridge of the steamer, I could look down upon the crowd preparing and eating their meals. All sorts go into the stew-pan when a Chinese is the cook—the chicken in bits, the tongue, the comb, the whole body down to the toes, even the intestines, after being well-washed and cleaned ! Then bits of dried fish, small shrimps, dried crabs, the roe of fish, potatoes, small squashes, and other vegetables of the tropics, all cut into small pieces, mixed, stirred, and cooked. For utilizing odds and ends of food the Chinese far surpass the French, or any other nation.
The curiosity of the Chinese passengers was unbounded. They are ingenious in their way of making knickknacks—puzzles, porcelain, bamboo chairs and baskets—but they cannot comprehend machinery. They are never weary of watching the motions of the engine, and gaze by the hour, with all the wonder of children, upon the cranks, wheels, and pistons, which to them seem to be alive. It is related that many years ago, when steamers first appeared in Chinese waters, the ingenious mechanics of Canton resolved to construct a steamboat. They rigged a junk with paddle-wheels, put up a funnel, painted great eyes at the bow, and wondered why their boat didn't start. The outside was all right they knew, and they couldn't understand that the motive power was wanting.
All the Chinese on the ship were inveterate gamblers. As soon as they had finished their breakfast the majority of them prepared to spend the day in gambling, using dominoes. They stake very little at a time—playing usually for their dinner or supper. Many of them were very wealthy. They may have gone to the Philippines as coolies. Their rice cost them, perhaps, a cent a day, and out in the harbor there were lots of fish which they could catch at night. After they had earned a few dollars, they left off being coolies, and set up as small merchants, and gradually, by cheap living and careful dealings they accumulated small for-tunes. Now they would be able to enjoy their ease for the rest of their days.
Gradually, as the vessel neared Hong-Kong the junks multiplied around us—unwieldy, clumsy craft, with sails so constructed that a reef can be taken instantly without going aloft; not one reef, but a half-dozen if necessary, reducing the mainsail to a small bit of canvas when the storm grows wild. The junk-builders seem to have no particular place for putting the masts. Sometimes there is but one, which is amidships, then there is a tall mast in the middle, and a short one at the stern. A framework like a carpenter's staging is usually built out over the helm; the rudder is a clumsy affair of plank and timber, larger than that of a man-of-war.
As we approached land there was a considerable commotion among the Chinese passengers. They were nearing home, and were giving thanks to Joss by setting gilt paper on fire and throwing it overboard. They were also packing up their pots and kettles, gathering together their baskets and boxes, and straining their eyes for the land.
Land is Sighted
The Captain told me to look steadily into the northwest. Turning my eyes in that direction I saw two black specks on the horizon ; a nearer view showed that they were conical hills, rising abruptly from the sea. Soon numerous other islands appeared, all of them with shores so bold that we could run within cable's length of the wave-washed rocks. The Portuguese called them the Ladrones the " islands of thieves." Chinese pirates formerly lived upon them, and watched their opportunity to plunder native or foreign craft. The Powers have suppressed most of the pirates, but the freebooters of the China coast are not all dead. The junks are nearly all armed, for fear of these robbers of the sea.
At last we rounded a point of land, and a mountain-side covered with buildings burst into view. As we steamed into the harbor of Hong-Kong I stood on deck, gazing at the beautiful scene. The town of Hong-Kong lay to the south of us, at the foot of the mountain which rises abruptly from the sea to a height of nearly two thousand feet. It appeared to be a city of palaces—large edifices, with colonnades and verandas, the residences of the merchants. Steamers, ships and Chinese boats were all around us. Northward we could see the mainland—verdure-clad hills, lofty mountains, deep ravines, patches of yellow earth, here and there, contrasted with the greenness, lending rare beauty to the picture. The Bay of Naples is broader, that of Sidney affords a safer anchorage, perhaps, but there are few ports in the world which for beauty and picturesqueness equal Hong-Kong. It is so completely land-locked that vessels are but little exposed to the terrific typhoons which occasionally sweep over the China Sea.
Vessels visit Hong-Kong from every quarter of the globe. It is the great mail centre of the East—mails to Europe, to Australia, Batavia, Manila, Japan, and the United States. Mail steamers are leaving almost every day, and there is daily service to Canton and Macao, so that Western enterprise has made itself felt in this neighborhood. The town is said to be healthy, and the only drawback is the heat, the thermometer in the summer ranging from eighty to ninety degrees.
I went ashore in a sampan, which was propelled by a sturdy Chinese woman, and after I had settled myself in a moderate-priced hotel, I went out to look about the town. I discovered that there were almost no horses at all to be seen. A few of the English residents keep dogcarts, but there isn't much inducement to keep horses in a place where the longest possible drive is only five miles. Nearly everybody rides about in sedan chairs, which are carried by two Chinese, or if the distance is great, by four. The chair is a kind of bamboo box, with a light frame-work ; it has green painted canvas to shelter one from the sun, and curtains at the side, which may be rolled up or let down at pleasure, and is supported by two long, springing, bamboo poles, which the bearers place on their shoulders.
My first ride in one of these strange vehicles was a queer sensation. I was first lifted from the ground, and then found myself springing up and down, and moving along with a wave-like motion. I could hardly keep from laughing outright at this remarkable mode of traveling—shut up in a hen-coop, carried by men in blue cotton blouses, shoes with soles an inch thick, that turn up at the toes, and wearing hats with brims three feet in diameter, curving up from circumference to centre like the lid of a teapot, each bearer having a pigtail hanging down his back like a bell-rope.
The Curse of Opium
At night I walked through the native quarter and looked into some of the opium dens. They were all well-patronized ; some of the patrons were reclining on couches, and others were lying on mats, with bamboo pillows under their heads. It was a disgusting sight to witness such degradation. The opium is first reduced from a solid to a liquid form by boiling it in water. When ready for the pipe it is about the color and consistency of tar. It is so powerful in its effects that the hundredth part of an ounce is sufficient to intoxicate a beginner, though an old stager can stand as much as a quarter of an ounce. If the drug is used regularly at a certain hour every day, the smoker in a short time cannot get past the hour without his pipe. He becomes restless, nervous, feverish, irritable, out of sorts, and endures terrible torture. After he has taken a few whiffs of the opium he is the happiest of mortals.
Once a man has formed the habit of taking opium, there is no breaking it off. The victim is doomed. It is an expensive habit, and costs the inveterate smoker about fifteen dollars a month. The vice in a short time leads to listlessness, indolence, neglect of business, incapacity, disease and horrible death. The Chinese 'have a saying that opium smokers make the night day and the day night. Those who give themselves up to the pipe are called "opium devils," and the name is surely appropriate. The story of the forcing of the opium trade upon China is known to the world, and will always remain one of the darkest blots upon the history of the English people, who waged the war of 1840 ostensibly to avenge an insult to the British flag, but in reality to force opium upon a government laboring to suppress the traffic. No excuse can be offered for the conduct of England ; it will ever stand forth in history as the high-handed barbarian act of a nation which puts forth the highest claims to civilization.